State officials revealed a statue honoring Chinese American pioneer Polly Bemis in front of the statehouse this week, KTVB 7 reports.
According to Idaho Press, Bemis was smuggled from China to Idaho after she was born because her parents sold her into slavery.
After she gained freedom, she married Charlie Bemis and ran a boarding house with him. During this time, Idahoans harassed the state’s Chinese and the state enforced discriminatory laws.
State Representative Sue Chew is grateful that Bemis’ story is being commemorated and calls her “integral” to Idaho’s history.
“People from different cultures living in the same community to work together, like Polly and her husband, is the way to solve problems and continue to contribute to society,” Chew told KTVB 7. “Her legacy must not be forgotten, and this is a way to not only further her story, but encourage others to learn about her contributions to Idaho.”
Dr. Priscilla Wegars, the author of The Life and Times of a Chinese American Pioneer, has been spreading the story of Bemis for years and hopes people will continue to respect her legacy.
“People often ask me what makes Polly Bemis so famous. I think it’s because she represents all the forgotten Chinese women who came to the U.S. during the 19th century,” Wegars told KTVB 7. “We remember Polly because her strength of character enabled her to rise above adversity, winning respect from everyone who knew her.
The Idaho Chinese Organization helped organize the unveiling of Bemis’ statue. Additionally, the ICO statewide Polly Bemis essay contest was held at the unveiling and participants read aloud their writing to the public.
“In that era many Chinese chose to go back to China or move to places with a bigger Chinese population. Polly chose to stay because she fell in love with this place. It gave her courage, hope and happiness even though she was not born here,” contest winner Pengjia Zha-fang said in her essay. “More than a century later, more Chinese women came here to get an education, take on all kinds of jobs, and contribute their talents to America.”
Now, August 10 can now officially be celebrated every year as Polly Bemis Day.
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